What do the states of Maine and Pennsylvania have in common?
1) They voted blue in the last election;
2) They include towns named Falmouth, Union, and Smyrna;
3) They have a rich and robust Whoopie Pie history;
4) All of the above.
If you guessed "all of the above," congratulations! Not only are you a student of politics and an astute map reader, you're obviously a food historian well versed in snack cake trivia. Because Maine, and Pennsylvania's Amish country, both have legitimate claims to being the birthplace of an historically little-known (outside their own region) snack cake phenomenon: the Whoopie Pie.
I grew up in Connecticut and Massachusetts, diligently collecting nickels from my paper route to spend at the variety store across the street from school. 5¢ would buy me an entry-level Devil Dog; 10¢, Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes. Or a three-pack of Drake's Yankee Doodles, a smaller, unfrosted version of Hostess Cupcakes, albeit with a particularly compelling "cream filling." I mean, if Hostess' cream filling was Debbie Reynolds, Drake's was Marilyn Monroe. It just had that certain je ne sais quoi...
Then, a just-launched college grad and newlywed, I moved to Maine. Discovered whoopie pies. And, cliché-like though it sounds, my life changed forever.
If you're a snack cake aficionado, you're familiar with Suzy-Qs, Hostess' slab o' chocolate cake sandwiched around cream filling. The classic whoopie pie takes that concept a step further, with two mammoth disks of chocolate cake enclosing a mega-dollop of cream filling.
And when I say cream filling, I don't mean any fancy-pants fresh whipped cream or buttercream or white chocolate ganache. I mean good old shortening-based "cream" filling, the stuff of which Snowball and Swiss Roll and Twinkie dreams are made.
These days, whoopie pies are gradually making their way throughout the country; you'll find them in shops from Palo Alto, California (Palo Alto Creamery) to Portsmouth, New Hampshire (The Market Basket). And in practically every convenience store in Maine, where they'll be up front by the checkout, alongside the Slim Jims, Humpty Dumpty chips, and pickled eggs.
But if there's no whoopie source near you, alas... you'll have to make your own. A sweet challenge indeed!
Enough with the small talk; let's get started. Classic Chocolate Whoopie Pies, here we come—
Let's start with some basic cake ingredients: butter, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla. Oh, and espresso powder—chocolate's best friend. I always add a touch of espresso powder to my dark chocolate baked treats, to heighten their flavor.
Beat until smooth. This is called "creaming," if you ever see that verb used in a recipe.
Add an egg...
...and beat till smooth again.
Mix till smooth. Remember to cover the bowl when blending in cocoa, lest a dust-cloud of cocoa settle over the mixer and everything around it (you, the counter, your cookbook...)
Now we're going to add milk and flour, alternately, to the chocolate mixture. A bit of flour, a bit of milk, more flour, more milk... How come this method? I'm not exactly sure, but I think it simply blends everything more consistently and thoroughly.
Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then beat briefly to blend in any pasty parts.
Decision time: Medium whoopie pies, or giants (which are, in fact, the standard whoopie size)? A tablespoon cookie scoop, slightly overfilled, will yield 16 whoopie pies that are about 2 3/4" diameter, about 2 1/2 ounces each. This is a kid-friendly, reasonable size.
Scoop the batter in blobs onto a baking sheet lined with parchment pan (first choice) or sprayed with non-stick vegetable oil spray. If you don't have a cookie scoop, this is about 2 1/2 measuring tablespoons' worth of batter.
Leave plenty of space among the cakes; they'll spread as they bake.
Want to make standard (giant, 5" across, 5 ounces) pies? Use a muffin scoop, leveled off. This is 1/4 cup of batter.
Again, leave plenty of space among them.
You'll be able to put 8 standard/giant whoopie-pies-to-be on each pan; so you'll need 2 pans.
Bake the pies. Notice I snuck a bit of leftover batter into the far corner; it's destined to be an orphan—sans filling, but still tasty.
And here's what they'll look like baked. They puff up, and pretty much lose their shininess. And when you press one in the center, it should feel set, not delicate or wet.
Take the pies out of the oven, and cool them on the pan. When they're lukewarm, slide a spatula underneath each one to loosen it where it might have stuck to the parchment or pan. Let them cool completely before filling.
Ah, the filling! "Real" whoopie pie filling involves lots of shortening, sugar, and raw egg whites. Our modified version replaces those raw whites with Marshmallow Fluff.
Notice the stiff consistency of Fluff. If you substitute Kraft (or another brand) marshmallow creme, it's liable to be thinner consistency, and you may need to stir in additional sugar to stiffen it up.
Mix shortening, confectioners' sugar, and Fluff. I can hear the questions coming— “Can I substitute butter for the shortening?” Sure. You'll no longer have a whoopie pie. You'll have a chocolate snack cake with a soft, buttery, somewhat greasy filling, unless you change the ratio of butter to sugar, using less butter and more sugar or maybe more Fluff... sorry, folks, I didn't try it.
How about using just plain Fluff or marshmallow creme? I tried it; doesn't work. The marshmallow becomes runny and oozes out. How about using Fluff and sugar? Didn't try that—go for it, let us know what happens.
But remember—if you don't use shortening, you're not making a true whoopie. And most shortening you'll now buy is trans-fat free, if that's your worry.
Beat everything till smooth.
Add vanilla, and a bit of salt dissolved in water.
Beat again till smooth.
We're filling the smaller pies here. If you have a tablespoon cookie scoop, dip it into the filling, and scoop out a generous scoopful; if you've got a scale, this will be about 30g.
Place it on the flat side of one cake.
Apply another cake, flat side down, and squeeze gently to spread the filling to the edges.
For larger cakes, use about 60g filling, which is a slightly heaped 1/4 cup.
Same thing. Put it on the cake...
...add another cake, and squeeze.
Nice lineup! You can't really tell from this angle, but those are smaller pies in front, larger ones in back.
Does this look like snack cake heaven, or what?!
I couldn't resist one more luscious shot.
The whoopie pie on the left was baked with Double Dark Cocoa, a mixture of regular and black cocoas, for extra-rich flavor and color; on the right, unsweetened baking cocoa. What a difference in color, eh?